Sister Mary James Geenen

March 31, 1919 - Feb. 20, 2012

Sister Mary James (Alice Margaret Mary) Geenen entered eternal life Monday, Feb. 20, 2012. She was born March 31, 1919, in Freedom, the third child of Henry R. Geenen and Gladys Catherine (McCormick) Geenen.

She attended St. Nicholas Elementary School. After graduating from high school she attended St. Norbert College and Silver Lake College, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education with majors in philosophy and English. She attended the University of Dayton earning a Master of Science degree in elementary education.

Sister Mary James took religious vows on Aug. 15, 1946, with the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, Manitowoc. She changed her community affiliation to the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady on Dec. 8, 1981. Sister celebrated her Golden Jubilee on Aug. 15, 1996.

Sister Mary James served as a teacher in the Diocese of Green Bay at: Sacred Heart, Oshkosh; St. Mary, Algoma; St. Wendell, Cleveland; St. Anthony, Neopit; St. Aloysius, Kaukauna; St. Paul, Manitowoc; St. Mary, Kaukauna; Chilton Catholic, Chilton; St. John, Seymour: In the Diocese of Superior: St. Joseph, Rice Lake. In the Archdiocese of Milwaukee: St. Mary, Waukesha; Holy Spirit, Milwaukee. In the Diocese of Steubenville: Ohio; St. Nicholas, Zanesville: In Michigan: St. Anne, Menominee.

Throughout her teaching career, Sister Mary James continued her education, earning credits from the University of Wisconsin-Manitowoc, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and the University of Dayton, Ohio. Sister held the following licenses: elementary teacher K-8 from the state of Wisconsin and from the state of Ohio, elementary teacher K-8, supervisor and administrator. During her teaching career, she continued to maintain advanced certification in religious education from the Diocese of Green Bay and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Sister Mary James served the church for 47 years as a dynamic, energetic and dedicated teacher. As a philosophy of education, she believed that, "Education should be positive, learning should be exciting, challenging and fun. Every child should be successful and be at ease in the classroom." She involved every student in her class and spent countless hours tutoring students who were in need of help. No sacrifice was too great, no effort too much when Sister Mary James perceived a child in need of help. A smile, a nod, a word of encouragement and time for individual tutoring, sometimes a minute or two and frequently after school for a longer period.

She recognized special talents in the poor and made every effort to have their giftedness recognized by others - in musicals and plays. She encouraged all of her students to use their talents to the best of their ability. Her students were motivated to be service-oriented. They visited hospitals, homes for the elderly and retirement homes always taking with them some small gift/card which they had made for the patients/residents. They entertained with song and dance on these occasions bringing great joy to the sick and elderly. Sister was a teacher in religious education classes on Saturday or Sunday mornings, during the week after school or in the evening and during the summer at rural parishes in Wisconsin and Ohio, preparing children and young people for the Sacraments of First Eucharist, Reconciliation and Confirmation.

At the University of Dayton, Sister Mary James was selected from a class of 53 students and was encouraged to pursue a career of teaching on television as a "Master Teacher." Her practicum project for her masterís degree was entitled, "The Use of Community Resources," which opened up a year of educational activities for 40 sixth-grade students. The students were exposed to such subjects as history, economics, law, sociology, psychology, law enforcement, fine arts, music and agriculture. The program included views of life, culture and habits of people in Russia, Mexico, Greenland and Peru as seen through the eyes of people who had lived there.

Sister Mary James was involved as an organizer/teacher in summer school workshops in reading, spelling and math for remedial and advanced students, art seminar and summer religious education programs. She taught in a college reading clinic, prepared students and directed them in diocesan music festivals, maintained membership in a college chorus for eight years, directed programs of entertainment at schools, trained altar servers and held regular meetings of high school and grade school servers in the club Knights of the Altar, and participated in the production of Christmas plays, musicals, spring concerts, St. Patrickís Day programs, teaching songs, speaking parts, dance numbers, frequently directing the programs.

The preparation for the class liturgies was the highlight of the week for Sister Mary James and her students at all grade levels. Her 15 years in junior high gave her the opportunity to develop leaders in the church in the students who were eager to participate in the preparation of the class liturgies. Each student was given an opportunity to sign up to do the reading, responsorial psalm, intercessions, presentation of gifts, prepare the art form when needed and participate in dramatization of the gospel. Every student was involved in the preparation of the liturgy, and they knew in advance when they were going to be involved. The scriptures came alive in the classroom, as students dramatized the story of Jesus choosing the twelve, the story of Zacchaeus, the two debtors etc. Students loved the liturgy and scripture and sometimes asked if they could have a New Testament to keep as their very own. At the celebrations of the class liturgies, Sister often accompanied the music on her guitar with students in the class.

After many delightful years of teaching, Sister enjoyed being involved in tutoring students on all grade levels, writing letters of encouragement to missionaries, praying for them, making mission rosaries, delivering Meals on Wheels, working with patients and shopping for them, helping children prepare for each new school year by shopping for school supplies, clothing and shoes, helping with costumes, attending their programs and being available to help them in any way. A former student of Sister Mary James, now a physician at Froedtert Hospital, told a colleague of his, "All I ever needed to know about life I learned from my third-grade teacher!" What a marvelous influence Sister had on, not only one student, but all of her students who were privileged to have her as a master teacher.

Sister had many interests and hobbies: reading, drama, music, singing, dancing, walking, piano, guitar, roller skating, swimming, crocheting, macrame, cooking, baking, sewing and alterations.

Sister Mary James is survived by one brother, John; two sisters, Sister Timothy and Sister Rosemarie; and nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews, cousins, friends and students.

Sister was predeceased by her parents; five brothers, the Rev. James J. Geenen, Henry R. Jr., Joseph E., William T. and Patrick J. Geenen; three sisters, Catherine Mary, Mary Marcella Geenen Fox and Sister Rosalyn.

Family and friends will be received from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24, in the Daley Murphy Wisch & Associates Funeral Home and Crematorium, 2355 Cranston Road, Beloit, with a prayer service at 3:45 p.m. Visitation continues from 10 a.m. until the 11 a.m. Mass of Christian burial Saturday, Feb. 25, at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church, 2222 Shopiere Road, Beloit, with the Rev. Gary Krahenbuhl officiating. Burial will be at 1 p.m. Monday, Feb. 27, in St. Nicholas Cemetery, Freedom.

Daley Murphy Wisch & Associates Funeral Home, 608-362-3444, is serving the family. Online condolences may be sent to the family at